Who is threatened by your empowerment?

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I am writing this piece in response to what appears to be a universal theme in the lives of my clients who become empowered in the process of our work together.  I hope you will find it helpful.  I look forward to any of your own experiences you would like to share that may be enlightening to other readers after you’ve had a chance to read and reflect.

We are relational beings

All of life is relational — that is to say, there is never a time in life when we are not in relationship to someone.  Those someones include: our spouse, our children, our parents (deceased or living), our siblings, our coworkers, our employers, our friends, our neighbors…and ourselves.

The who that we are in those relationships has everything to do with how we see ourselves in relation to the people around us and our own sense of self-worth.  Both of these self concepts are heavily informed and created by how we were raised and adapted in our families of origin.

Not only is this understanding at the heart of most modern-day psychological understanding, it is also more recently being reiterated by our current scientific understanding of the neuroplastic parts of our brain (the mirror neuron system, etc.) that are developed in response to our relationships with primary caregivers during the first formative years of life.

What is on your “sandwich board”?

A self-concept metaphor I tend to use in my practice is to picture that person hired to stand on the corner of an intersection wearing a sandwich board that advertises pizza deals or furniture closeout sales.  Similar to this guy, each of us wears an invisible sandwich board that informs the world of who we see ourselves to be and what we feel we deserve.

To know what your sandwich board says, you need not look further than the relationships in your own life.  Does your spouse honor and respect you or does he/she treat you with dismissiveness and neglect?  Do people respect your personal space and boundaries or do they walk right over the top of them as if they didn’t exist?

For the most part, a person’s sandwich board is written in childhood and informs the world of how he/she is to be treated for the rest of his or her life.  All of those reoccurring life themes (I always attract men who cheat on me…everyone else gets promoted to better positions except me…my life is one tragic event after another…etc.) can be largely attributed to what is written on that sandwich board…

…that is to say, we are oriented toward and unconsciously create in our lives the relationships and situations we feel we deserve.

Re-writing your operating instruction

As I work with clients to assist them in creating better lives for themselves through inner healing and transformation, we are rewriting their sandwich boards.  It is not an extreme, all-at-once process, but a subtle process that unfolds over the course of our time together.

One important marker my clients can look to that will concretely demonstrate the success of their inner work is the evolving state of their relationships.

This can look many ways…

…his spouse is becoming more compassionate and loving (seemingly “out of the blue”).

…stressful entanglements with coworkers are happening less and less frequently.

…an estranged sibling calls after years of no contact and a profound reconciliation occurs.

…and even, you find fewer and fewer people are cutting you off in traffic.

These are examples of relationships that are naturally adjusting and adapting to the growing sense of self-worth and self-respect that come through the inner transformation process — they are successes!

Manual relationship “updates”

Unfortunately, not all of the people in our lives adapt well to our empowerment.  Some people, for instance, have found power and comfort in profiting from your lack of self-worth.  When you feel small and as a result, count on them (on whatever level) to be your higher power they can, as a consequence, become inflated and feel more powerful.

However, when you become more of your own higher power, they lose some of what they gained from that imbalanced power dynamic that has always existed between the two of you (this can also occur in group dynamics as well).  When it comes down to it, your growing sense of self has disrupted a “racket” that they have come to count on within your relationship.

In some of these cases, the relationship can be what I call “updated.”  Like updating your computer operating system, you may actually need to have a sit-down with them.  In this way, you update them to the fact that your sandwich board has been modified and your requirements for how you are to be treated by your relations has changed.

Your growth threatens me, therefore it is bad

Not all people, however, will be able to update to your new-found sense of self.  Some people can feel so threatened by the changing power differential, that they can even see your personal transformation as bad, threatening, and wrong.

For these people, even though this perception is based upon their own projected insecurities, your personal growth is bad.  Though a more rare and paranoid situation, some of these folks may resort to extreme measures to sabotage your growth process — by planting seeds of self-doubt (or by using some other emotional hook such as guilting, shaming, blaming, or some other sort of “make wrong”) to derail your transformational process.

At the start of our work together, many of my clients are surrounded by bullying personalities or people who want to be my client’s higher power/authority — they find power in being the all-knowing “guru.”

When a client become her/his own power, authority, and “inner guru,” these folks don’t like the loss of “power over” (verses “power with,” which allows both people to be powerful at once) and can sometimes try to undermine my clients’ newly-found inner resources.

When someone resorts to this level of extreme behavior, it is important to ask oneself:

Why is my personal empowerment so threatening to this person?

What does he/she gain from my seeing myself as smaller, less confident, less deserving, etc. than him/her?

While it can be difficult to admit that you’ve surrounded yourself with people who benefit from your perceiving yourself to be inferior, a genuine inquiry into these and similar questions will help you understand what catalyzes a naysayer’s negative behavior.

Your growth actually serves everyone!

Ultimately, when we become more of who we really are — underneath our wounding, unshackled from our trauma, pain, and diminutive sense of self, we connected with our authenticity and our vital essence.  It not only serves us by giving our lives more meaning and fulfillment, it serves everyone around us — whether they actually like it, or not.

To become free of the burdens of shadow, stress, and trauma — all of which have prevented you from bringing your best to life — is to bring more enlightenment, health, and positive power to the world.

Sure, every despot in the world would love to reign over his or her fiefdom unhindered.  I am, however, hard-pressed to find even one example in the entire history of humanity where bullying, manipulation, or any form tyrannical rule was a good thing.

To clear yourself of your own diminished sense of self is to allow for a clearer reflection to everyone around you.  This in turn gives everyone in your life a better chance of achieving their own sense of true freedom from pain and unhappiness.

So even for those who don’t like your empowerment, your growth is still a gift to them.  They may not now…not ever…see it as such.  However disheartening, this is something we have no control over.

These people in your lives may also be unable to update the way they treat you to match the newly-gained self-respecting requirements on your sandwich board.  The unfortunate choice on their part to require you to “stay small” (whatever that looks like) in order to be in relationship with them, may ultimately lead to their playing a far less significant roll in your life altogether — i.e. they are self-selecting out of having a meaningful relationship with you.

Please share your experience…

What has been your experience with re-writing your sandwich board?

And how has that either flowed well, required “manual updates,” or forced you to re-evaluate some of the relationships in your life?